In the last episode, we learned how the saying, “Women are from Venus and Men are from Mars” applies very well to stress. We saw how there are big differences in how men and women perceive stress, which are their greatest stressors, and how differently they experience the symptoms of stress in their body and in their brain.
What about managing stress? What strategies work best for each gender?
Today we will talk about specific strategies that work best for men or women to manage stress.
We Manage Stress Differently.
Regardless of their sources of stress and the symptoms reported in the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America Survey, both men and women say that in general, they tend to choose sedentary activities like reading, listening to music and watching television to manage their stress over healthier behaviors like exercising, meditating or seeing a mental health professional.
However, here are some more differences:
● Women are more likely than men to say they read to manage stress and overall report more stress management activities that connect them with other people, like spending time with friends or family and joining a group or a community like a church.
● Men are more likely than women to say they play sports and listen to music as a way of managing stress. They are also more likely than women to say they do nothing to manage their stress.
● Women report that they eat more or eat unhealthy foods because of stress.
● Significantly more women exercise only once a week or less and say that they are just too tired to exercise more.
● Men say they exercise because it gives them something to do and keeps them from getting sick.
● Only 33% of women and 25% of men report being successful in their efforts to get enough sleep
● Only 35 % of women and 30% of men report being successful in their efforts to manage stress
● Women often seek support to talk out the emotional experience, to process what is happening and what can be done.
● Men often seek an escape activity to get relief from stress, to create a relaxing diversion, to get away.
When it comes to the barriers that men and women say prevent them from taking better care of themselves, they are also very different.
● Both genders cite lack of willpower as the No. 1 barrier preventing them from making lifestyle and behavior changes like healthy eating habits or an exercise routine.
● When asked what they would need to change in order for their willpower to improve, women were more likely to say less fatigue and more energy, more time and more confidence in their ability, while men were less likely to say they need encouragement in order to improve their willpower; instead they said they need more money.
Stress Is Difficult to Diagnose!
In order to manage a problem, we need to be able to recognize it so it is important to know the symptoms of stress. Unfortunately, there is no specific test to diagnose stress. Typically, if you get to the point of seeing a doctor, most likely your doctor will conduct a series of tests to exclude other medical conditions, having nothing to do with stress directly.
This is because the symptoms of stress may be similar to those of other conditions.
Some of the symptoms that might prompt you to see your doctor include the following
• frequent upset stomach, indigestion, gas pain, diarrhea or appetite changes
• emotional instability and moodiness: that feeling that you could cry at anytime
• muscular tension
• tightness in your chest and a feeling as though you can’t catch your breath
• feeling nervous or sad or being irritable or angry or seeking isolation
• having problems at work or in your normal relationships
• sleep disturbances: either insomnia or hypersomnia (excessive sleepiness)
• apathy and lack of interest, motivation or energy
• mental or emotional health problems including depression, anxiety, and panic attacks
• mental or physical fatigue
• frequent illnesses like colds or infections
• skin problems or tooth grinding
• dizziness or ringing in the ears
• less intimacy or less interest in sex
• pain most commonly in the back and neck
• drug and alcohol misuse
• overeating and weight gain
• increased blood pressure and heart rate
• forgetfulness, inability to make decisions, negative thinking or lack of focus.
• for women, problems getting pregnant or disruptions in their menstrual cycle or unusually severe PMS or menopausal symptoms
Science-based Strategies for Stress Management
The best advice I have learned as a way to manage stress from over-demand and inadequate self-care is very simple. And it boils down to two little words that can make a big difference in your life: ‘No’ or ‘Yes.’
Oftentimes the stressors in our lives are out of our control and the problem is that we can’t simply wish away stressful events from our life. There is no singular solution to solve all of our problems.
Who doesn’t want a secret move or a magic potion to kill stress in our life and instantly feel better and balanced?
The thing is, secret techniques and magic potions are awesome in movies but rarely actionable in real life!
The key is to learn to expand your nervous system capacity to handle stress better and that requires attitude, dedication, and practice.
Here are some strategies that everyone can implement in their life to enhance your nervous system capacity to manage increased demand during stressful moments:
- Eat a balanced, nutritious diet and avoid indulging in alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, and junk food.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise promotes emotional well-being and physical fitness.
- Get enough sleep: a study has shown that brilliant people that we recognize as being geniuses in history slept an average of 8.30 hours/night.
- Practice relaxation exercises every day, including meditation, deep muscle relaxation, and deep breathing. This will increase your nervous system capacity to adjust your response to stress and reduce its effects. You could also use the help of biofeedback or neurofeedback training. These techniques help you monitor your progress and achieve higher states of relaxation with time.
- Schedule your time more effectively and restructure your priorities towards healthy activities.
- Learn how to say no and to establish healthy boundaries.
- Balance home, work and play by planning time for hobbies and recreation—activities that relax your mind, which can be as simple as taking a warm shower, going to a movie, getting a massage, or taking a walk.
- When you are anticipating a stressful event, try to visualize yourself feeling calm and confident. Trust me, it works magic!
- Express your emotions: let yourself laugh and cry. Laughter releases tension in your muscles, while tears help cleanse the body of substances that accumulate under stress.
- Strive to maintain loving healthy relationships and stay connected with friends and family.
- Talk about what troubles you. Find a friend, a relative, or a spiritual guide. Sharing your feelings helps you see a problem from a different perspective. If you can’t find a buddy to talk with, try writing your feelings in a journal.
- Help others. Science shows that when we help others, we increase our resilience.
- Learn to accept the stressors that are out of your control, and when you know you need to face those stressors, schedule stress-reducing activities in your day.
- Cultivate a positive attitude towards changes. Think of them as opportunities to grow and evolve.
- Keep a sense of humor during difficult situations. Laughing doesn’t just lighten our load mentally, it actually induces physical changes in our body, such as enhancing intake of oxygen-rich air, stimulating our heart, lungs, and muscles, increasing the endorphins that are released by our brain, relieving our stress response, stimulating circulation and aiding muscle relaxation, improving our immune system, relieving pain by causing the body to produce its own natural painkillers, helping to connect with other people, and improving our mood by lessening depression and anxiety.
- If you realize that you need extra help, reach out to a mental health practitioner.
These are techniques that everyone can successfully implement in their lives.
There are some specific strategies that may work better for men or women to manage stress.
How Can Men and Women Manage Stress Better?
Men are taught since childhood to act as if they can control the impossible on a daily basis and to accept responsibility for things they don’t have control over. When they become adults, they get frustrated with what they can’t change and get so involved with that, they fail to step up to the plate and do the things they can do. Procrastination is the most common result of this learned behavior. Thus, the first strategy to help men reduce stress is to remind them that they cannot control all the things so they can develop a more realistic sense of what they can control. Another important practice that helps men manage stress is to learn to admit vulnerability and talk openly about their feelings and their struggles.
The best advice I have for women is to learn to develop and practice healthy self-care habits for coping with stress. In addition, when possible, women could reduce the stressors in their life and simplify their life. It is important for women to learn to put their wellbeing first and work toward healthy self-esteem. This might require learning to say no and to examine their negative beliefs and habits. What would you like to be different in your life? What do you need to change or do to achieve more balance? Are you trying to please others more than yourself?
Reducing stress can be difficult and often, we succeed in relieving stress in the short term but then we return to old stress-producing habits. Oftentimes this happens because we follow what is trendy instead of what is rooted in science: the latest diet, the newest app to track exercise or fancy practices that not always will produce results that are long-lasting.
Keep in mind that no single method of stress management is successful for everyone. It is useful to try a variety of approaches with a “try and fail” attitude to discover what works best for you.
When it comes to self-care, I highly recommend developing a personalized plan because I strongly believe that we are all unique on a path for our own evolution as human beings.
That is why I have developed my audio-training on the four rituals of wellbeing, to help you harness stress into lifelong strength, and to learn how to master your health using the power of science-based and result-proven practices.
And remember you have the power to harness your stress into growth, health, and happiness!
Now, I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite go-to practices to manage stress?
Leave a comment in the comment box on the blog page and let me know.
Thank you so much for being on this journey with me.